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Pala's Big Gamble: A SoCal Tribe's Casino Made Them Rich. But At What Cost? 

Thursday, Jun 20 2013
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He points out the various businesses that the tribe runs, including a shooting range and thousands of acres of citrus and avocado groves. There's a sprawling motocross track and a skateboard park, and a sand and gravel operation. It's come to the point where one hardly needs to leave the reservation, for work or for leisure.

"The magic for Pala, I believe, is that we have a sense of financial responsibility," Lattin says, "where we've taken our proceeds and plowed them back into future economic development for growth."

Lattin has been involved in projects ranging from advising an Emmy-nominated documentary about Native Americans in the military to co-founding the Native American Republican Super PAC. He's currently not working. "I'm assessing my options," he says.

click to flip through (4) PHOTO BY NANETTE GONZALES - The Pala Casino and Hotel
  • PHOTO BY NANETTE GONZALES
  • The Pala Casino and Hotel
     
 

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Though he no longer serves on the council, and recently left the reservation to move to San Diego, he continues to think about big-picture ideas for Pala. Reservations once may have been seen as dens of poverty and despair, but he believes they are potential utopias.

"Tribal governments have to be savvy both in business and government," Lattin says, "and in good tribal governments like Pala, they're able to react and feed off each other."

Of course, the question of whether Pala's government has acted in the best interest of all its people, rather than just some of them, is hotly debated.

And for all of Lattin's optimism, it's ironic that, after centuries of repression and mistreatment from outsiders, it was Pala's windfall that caused the tribe to turn on itself. Only time will tell whether these millions — gambled and lost by outsiders — have been the tribe's saving grace, or its undoing.

Reach the writer at bwesthoff@laweekly.com

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